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DPS board debates future of innovation schools and question about teacher rights

Zoom meeting planned for Wednesday night
Posted at 4:33 PM, Mar 09, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-09 19:32:39-05

DENVER — A few years ago, Denver Public Schools adopted an innovative model, which allows schools to design their own ‘playbook’ with input from teachers, parents and the community.

“We didn’t want to be a traditional school,” said Alex Magana, executive director of Grant Beacon Middle School and Kepner Beacon Middle School. “We didn’t want to follow just these guidelines, these rules. We wanted to create our own playbook.”

But this model is now threatened. The DPS board has proposed executive limitations on innovative schools, claiming teachers don't have a choice to opt out in those schools. The teacher's union says that violates teacher rights.

There is now plenty of pushback against that from parents and teachers at innovation schools.

"Literacy is of the highest priority here,” said Victoria Bailey, librarian and Kepner Beacon and Grant Beacon schools. “At many schools, physical libraries are a thing of the past. There is not staffing for a physical library."

Bailey says this is just one of the many ways innovative schools are improving education.

"We can tailor our schools based on our community, based on our demographic," she said.

Magana says the proof is in the performance. In just two years, the innovation model took both schools from some of lowest performing in DPS to the top of the class.

“We're the top performing school with the same population of students," Magana said of Grant Beacon Middle School. “From yellow to green in one year, and then we've maintained green, almost a blue status in the school performance framework."

One way they're succeeding is through enrichment.

"We have an enrichment hour during our regular school day, twice per week," said Elizabeth Walters who helps coordinate enrichment classes.

Students get to choose from about 20 enrichment classes each quarter, often helping them lean into their strengths and curiosity at no cost, Walters says.

"We've got some Lego robotics, video game design, a really cool Shark Tank class, like the TV show that the kids get to design a business product for," Walters said.

What’s unclear is why the board is set to move on this topic now. We reached out to a few board members and got no comment, with the exception of one who told us they’re going to ‘listen first, talk later,’ perhaps after a scheduled Zoom meeting on Wednesday night about innovation schools.

These teachers are vowing to fight for a model of teaching they believe in.

“I've seen the growth of our students. I've seen the data. I know it works," Bailey said.

“Innovation is not a bad word,” Magana said. “Innovation is a positive word. Yet, for some reason - here in DPS, we're considering it a negative."